Review: Clara's Soldier

There are only a few short days before The Nutcracker and the Four Realms comes to theaters. In anticipation of this event, I read a recent adaptation of the classic fairy tale called Clara's Soldier by Brittany Fichter, the author The Autumn Fairy. Before I begin, though, I'd like to acknowledge that today is Halloween. I hope everyone reading this is planning to dress up as their favorite princess! While we're mimicking princess fashions of old, the Disney Princesses are dressing down to look like us in Ralph Breaks the Internet. Disney is already cashing in on the princesses' new modern styles making screen-accurate replicas Ariel, Aurora, and Pocahontas's modern clothing available to grown-up women on their site as well as figurine and doll sets of their upcoming Millennial looks. Okay, back to Clara's Soldier.

I wasn't sure what to expect from Clara's Soldier because many of the previous books I've read by Brittany Fichter were dark and depressing. She's the type of writer that loves to torture her characters. With its World War II setting, her usual dark tone fit perfectly with this story. I enjoyed it a lot more than the other princess book I read that takes place during the same time period because it was very romantic and brought magic and hope to an otherwise hopeless and terrible part of history. No longer a little girl who plays with dolls, Clara was aged up to 21 in this version of the story and is engaged to a soldier named James whose status after the war is unknown. She waits for him for over a year with unwavering faith, refusing to believe that he died in action without hard evidence. Her godfather, Drosselmeyer, works up some magic after presenting Clara with a Nutcracker resembling James that allows Clara to finally learn the truth about her beloved.

This book was about half the length of most of Brittany Fichter's novels, which worked in its favor. The perils of war would have been unpleasant to read about in any more detail than it had, and it added a ticking clock to the romantic reunion between the two lovers. The subtle nods to the original "Nutcracker" story never felt out of place. Clara's younger brother Fritz played a minor role by accidentally breaking her Nutcracker just like in the fairy tale. James refers to the Nazis as "rats," as a subtle nod to the Mouse King. Finally, a small child who hints at the truth about what happened to James takes on the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The only major detail from the original story that wasn't referenced in the novel was James' connection to Drosselmeyer. In E.T.A. Hoffman's tale and likely the upcoming Disney version, the Nutcracker is revealed to be Drosselmeyer's nephew. Brittany's version had no mention of this, most likely because James was an ordinary man in the context of the story, while Drosselmeyer had a connection to the supernatural. Therefore, being related would alter what they are each capable of.

Even though Brittany's writing tends to be on the macabre side, she excels at love stories, and that is exactly what makes Clara's Soldier an outstanding novel. Clara and James are established as life-long sweethearts ever since they knew each other as children. Their unwavering faith that they will one day see each other again carries the story along beautifully leading up to the book's Christmas miracle. Both characters are in a very dark place at the beginning of the story. Everyone in Clara's life wants her to give up on James and move on, but she instead allows herself to continue suffering for an uncertain future that she has no idea if she still can attain. James is trapped in the midst of the war and its effects on him both mentally and physically. Both characters need each other to become whole again and end their sadness.

Clara's Soldier is a beautiful tale of faith, love, and recovery that pays tribute to "The Nutcracker" while still offering something new to its audience. Clara and James were unique enough characters to hold my interest in the story, and I didn't know what to expect by the end. It was a powerful and emotional journey and dealt with issues that many solders in real life have had to face. I recommend this book to anyone who loves romance and fantasy.


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